Friday, November 13, 2009

The Refiner’s Fire, Part I

Into His likeness
We all must grow
Ever more like Him
Body, mind and soul

Into His likeness
That's my destiny
He will complete the work
He began in me

In the third chapter of his first epistle, John exults, “Beloved, now we are the sons of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be. But we know that when [Jesus] shall appear, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”

John begins with two indicatives: We are (present tense) the children of God. And, our present imperfections will not last forever (i.e. the best is yet to come.) Looking forward, John revels in the sure knowledge of two future realities: Seeing Jesus in person, and being like Jesus. And note how John connects these two things together, seeing Jesus transforms us into his likeness.

This amazing transformation will be completed the instant that we behold Christ face-to-face. But prior to that wondrous moment, God is continually molding us into ever increasing Christ-likeness. As Paul notes in Romans 8:29, God’s purpose in predestination is not mere salvation from the flames of hell. Those whom God has “called according to His purpose” have been predestined “to be conformed to the image of His Son” (Jesus.)

To be quite honest, this is a lengthy, painful and arduous process. As a pastor friend of mine once noted, “Sanctification is long, slow and hard.” Amen, brother.

Although it is true that God is using everything to accomplish this task of remaking us in Christ’s image, there are three specific means that God seems particularly inclined to use: Word, Sacrament and Trials.

Word – As David noted in Psalm 19, “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.” To which Paul added in his letter to the Romans, “do not to be conformed to this world, rather, be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” God the Holy Spirit shapes and molds us by His Word (see also Hebrews 4:12; 2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Sacraments – The central glory and import of baptism is union with Christ (Romans 6:1-5). All secondary benefits flow from this primary benefit of being covenantally joined to Christ in the water of baptism. At the Lord’s Table we partake (covenantally) of the body and blood of our Savior Jesus Christ. Although much more could be said about this, “You are what you eat” will suffice for this discussion. Communion is co-union with Christ. (This, by the way, is a powerful argument for frequent Communion.)

Trials – In his letter to the Philippians, Paul expresses his supreme desire to know Christ in “fellowship” of Christ’s sufferings “in order to become like him…” Initially this is not a pleasant thought. Who in their right mind would like to go through a trial just for the sake of being miserable? But remember what John wrote (see above)? Apprehending Jesus transforms us into his likeness.

So, embrace God’s purpose for you in salvation: Christ-likeness. Embrace the means that He has ordained to accomplish this arduous task. Read your Bible diligently and listen actively to sound preaching in order to apprehend Jesus by faith. Embrace the import and glory of the Sacraments, reminding yourself daily of the central meaning your baptism (union with Christ) and running eagerly to the Communion Table to feed upon him by faith.

And learn to glory in trials and tribulations, knowing that God is refining your faith (1 Peter 1:7) and perfecting the image of His Son in you (James 1:1-4; Malachi 3:3).

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